Chalkbags – without synthetics


Bouldering (climbing without a rope) is the only sport I enjoy doing regularly. Usually I go to Fontainebleau, a natural outside bouldering area south of Paris, with a small group of people every year. While I was there the last time, I observed that most of the clothes people wear and most of the equipment they use, chalk bags* being one of the most obvious ones, are mostly made from synthetic textiles. I believe that the climber and boulder community is very much aware of nature and the environment, therefore you see almost no trash in the bouldering areas of Fontainebleau (the municipality doesn’t clean up there, there’s also no trash bins).
However I was sad that even though I would never leave trash behind, I would still pollute the area with microplastic – through my clothes and equipment I brought there. My next thought was: Is it necessary that I wear this synthetic performance wear? Probably not – since I am not a pro-boulderer and things like wind resistance or weight of clothes don’t really matter much when I boulder. I prefer to be comfortable and feel happy with my equipment. Therefore, I started developing a boulder outfit for myself in linen, starting with the chalk bags. These should not leave any harmful traces like microplastic behind, the next time I was going to boulder outside.

*Chalk bags are used to store magnesia while climbing. When put on the hands, magnesia reduces sweating and therefore gives a better grip on the stones.

I translated a technique that I had used in my fashion bachelor graduation onto the new material: linen. That technique does not have a specific name, but it is being used by several fashion and product designers already. Basically, you stretch an elastic material, fixate a less elastic material on top of it (in whichever way) and let the stretch loose again. As a result, you get interesting surface shapes, in which the elastic textile shapes the fixates material. I did first try outs with needle felting on wool on acrylic knit. Then with needle felting flax fibres on a linen wool mix. Afterwards I felted flax on 100% linen, but I wasn’t content with the result. So I decided to knit the less elastic material (in my case flax fibres and linen rope) into the textile. Afterwards I investigated how to make the bag sturdy while keeping the chalk from getting out and different closure systems. In addition, I experimented with different shapes of the bag and always took it for testing “in action” to the local boulderhal. It took me a while until I had a shape and look that was aesthetically pleasing and practical.

(left) chalk bag with magnetic closure and linoleum reinforcement
(right) chalk bag with wooden closure and latex reinforcement

The results are two bags. One is a latex reinforced classic chalk bag. Made from rough old linen fabric, walnut died upcycled linen bedsheets, machine spun linen yarn, hand spun linen yarn, rough flax fibres and wood. The other one is a linoleum reinforced chalk bag specifically for bouldering. Made from walnut died upcycled linen bedsheets, machine spun linen yarn, hand spun linen yarn, hand-made linen rope and magnets for the closure. I personally prefer the one with magnetic closure, because it is very convenient to open and close while it stands sturdy on the ground. I took both of the bags to Germany for a trip in the wild. I enjoyed bouldering with them a lot. The effort of making them was worth it!